Associate Professor Darryl Eyles (BSc. Gr Dip Clin Biochem. Ph.D) is a science graduate who obtained his Ph.D. in the Department of Medicine, University of Queensland. He has been with QCMHR since its inception in 1987. He is Laboratory Head for QCMHR’s Developmental Neurobiology laboratory at the Queensland Brain Institute, University of Queensland where he is a faculty member and has adjunct teaching positions with UQ’s Schools of Biomedical and Health Sciences. Darryl has been the recipient of a number of awards including the Forum for European-Australian Science and Technology Cooperation award. He is a reviewer for more than 10 scientific journals, a reviewer for a number of international funding bodies and a NHMRC committee panel member for psychology/psychiatry project grants. Darryl has published more than 90 scientific articles or book chapters. Research interests include developmental animal models for schizophrenia, vitamin D neurobiology, dopamine ontogeny and the neurobiology of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a poorly understood group of brain disorders that affect about one in a hundred Australians. The aim of the Eyles group is to explore risk factors that are linked to schizophrenia. In particular they focus on nongenetic factors that are potentially modifiable. In recent years the team has been examining the impact of low vitamin D (the sunshine hormone) during early brain development. In collaboration with Prof John McGrath and Dr Tom Burne, they have developed animal models that examine the impact of low vitamin D during gestation on brain development. Recently the group and their Danish collaborators have found that low vitamin D levels at birth double the risk of later developing schizophrenia.
This research raises the tantalizing prospect of the primary prevention of schizophrenia. It is feasible that the use of vitamin D supplementation in at-risk groups could reduce the incidence of schizophrenia, in a manner comparable to folate supplementation and the prevention of spina bifida.
Understanding brain development and psychiatric illness
Adverse events in utero increase risk for serious psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. Research in our laboratory focuses on how known risk-factors for schizophrenia, including developmental vitamin D (DVD) deficiency, change the way the brain develops. The Eyles group has developed an extremely sensitive LC/MS/MS assay for vitamin D species in blood spot cards. This assay allowed the landmark study in 2010 implicating maternal levels of vitamin D as a risk factor for schizophrenia to be conducted.
Vitamin D has long been known to be important for calcium absorption and bone health, but it is only relatively recently that attention has been directed to its role in cellular differentiation and brain development. In 2005 we mapped the distribution of the vitamin D receptor in human brain, and showed the close anatomical relationship between vitamin D signalling and metabolism in both rodent and human brain. Over the past 12 years we have been exploring what role vitamin D plays in the developing brain and how the maternal absence of this vitamin may affect brain function and behaviour.
We have recently discovered a mechanism of post-translational modification of the vitamin D receptor that may profoundly affect vitamin D signally selectively in the developing brain.
Schizophrenia is also closely associated with abnormalities in dopamine transmission. The group’s work in DVD- deficient animals confirms this. We have now fast-tracked some of our discoveries in rodent models into other model systems more amenable to high-throughput neuroscience such as the fruit fly and zebrafish. Using these model species the team has established models of restricted early transient impairments in dopaminergic development which we predict may be of aetiological relevance to what is happening in the developing human brain in schizophrenia.
Dr Burne obtained his PhD in Neurophysiology and Behaviour, under the supervision of Professor Lesley Rogers (DSc, FABiol,FAA), from the University of New England in 1997. Dr Burne went on to study behavioural neuroscience in the UK at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge, UK. His postdoctoral work with Professors Steven Rose (Open University, UK) and Lawrence Wilkinson (University of Cambridge, UK) has provided him with the foundation for a well-regarded and flourishing program in behavioural neuroscience since his return to Australia in 2002. Dr Burne is now part of the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research and has been with the Queensland Brain Institute since 2005. He has published over 70 referred papers and book chapters and, in collaboration with colleagues, attracted over $2 million in grant funding (including from the NHMRC and Brain Research Foundation). Dr Burne is a member of the University of Queensland Animal Ethics Committee, an Academic Editor for PLoS One and on the executive committee for the Australian Society for Psychiatric Research.
Professor Darryl Eyles
Professor John McGrath
Dr Tom Burne
Dr Xiaoying Cui (Smart StateFellow)
Cameron Anderson (NHMRC funded)
Jessica Barnes (NHMRC funded)
Karly Turner (NHMRC funded)